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  1. Work-rate. Incisiveness. Nous. I don't ask for much. This is how it's gonna be. Build from the ground up. Note the kick-off time. The game that the media are claiming will decide the destiny of the league title, the UK general election, Trump V Biden, the Six Nations, and whatever overhyped boxing match is coming up. While the coaching staff and players will be wanting to prepare for and treat a game at Anfield against City as just another game, it's almost impossible not to think that the outcome will set the tone for the remainder of the season. City barely have any injuries anyway, the likes of Rodri never seem to get injured (or suspended), they're in that post New Year mode where they put together a run of wins, any talk about their off-field transgressions dies a death outside of LFC-friendly platforms, and the line-up of officials will shortly be due an all-expenses-paid jolly to referee a friendly in the UAE in the coming weeks. Last season's corresponding fixture was a month before the World Cup break. Jurgen created a bit of a stir by having us sit back more and soak up pressure rather than apply our usual pressing game on them. The first half was a game of very few chances, with by far the best being a Haaland (aka Blobfish) header straight to Ali when unmarked at the back post. In the second, we had the best chance so far when Mo raced through, only to see Ederson (aka Drunk Banksy Exhibit) get the faintest of touches to his effort, which of course the officials gave as a goal kick. To be fair to them, in real time it did look as though Mo had missed the target. City thought they'd taken the lead when Foden (aka Council Estate Scrote) fired in off Joe on the line from the angle after Blobfish had wiped out Ali when trying to latch onto a through-ball from De Bruyne (aka Prince Harry). Ali and the defenders protested with Professional Game Manchester-based Officials Limited's representative Taylor (aka Bald Manc Bastard) for a foul on the keeper, but VAR were telling him to have a look at something else. Blobfish had also fouled Fab in the lead-up to the goal. Bald Manc Bastard went to the screen and ruled the goal out. Guardiola (aka Bald Weirdo) went mental, not quite "Twiiiiiice!" territory, but he was clearly peeved that Bald Manc Bastard had failed to stick to the script. Following that unexpected reprieve, Mo played an exquisite cross with the outside of his foot to the unmarked Diogo at the back past. Perhaps seeing Drunk Banksy Exhibit rushing out, he hurried his chance and headed it wide. Then we got the two big moments in the game. Prince Harry uncharacteristically overhit a simple free kick into the arms of Ali. Ali looked up, assessed his options, and saw Mo up against Cancelo (aka How Did I End Up At Barca?) in the City half. Everyone else was still in our half. It was a great goal kick, but even better was Mo's first touch. Honestly, to kill a high dropping ball stone dead, fend off the attentions of HDIEUAB, spin his man and get his sprint on in one movement was just about the most outrageous bit of skill I've seen by a Liverpool player for impact. The only other instance to immediately come to mind is Suarez against the Geordies when he raced onto a long pass, controlled the ball with his shoulder on the run, touched it past the keeper with a deft feint, and rolled it into the net with the outside of his foot. That one was almost exactly a decade earlier! Mo raced through and this time Drunk Banksy Exhibit could do nothing to stop it. Another amazing goal for Mo against that lot. In David Coleman speak, "One Nil!" The next talking point was yet another example of Mo not getting a free kick for the most blatant of fouls right in front of the linesman. Linesmen at that end struggle to see stuff that happens right in front of them. Remember when Bosingwa (aka Monobrow) came charging in and jammed his studs into Yossi's back by the corner flag? Chelsea got either a throw-in or free kick after that one! Anyway, this time it was Bernardo Silva (aka Casa De Merda Português) who wrestled Mo to the ground, tried to elbow him, and then backheeled him when the ref's back was turned. The officials let play go on. Mo was furious but Jurgen was absolutely incensed, letting the linesman have both barrels. Bald Manc Bastard decided that was red-card worthy and sent Jurgen off. How often do we see officials ignore what initiated a scuffle or verbal tirade, and just deal with the retaliatory action? They always cover their own backs too. Remember when Robbo was elbowed by linesman Hatzidakis (aka Roid Of The Rovers), with the immediate narrative being peddled that the Scot had manhandled the lino? Anyway, the game practically fizzled out after Jurgen was sent to the stands, and we had 3 very welcome points. Despite what I wrote about City earlier, it's not like we don't pose a serious threat to them. We have shown time and again that we can nail them. As I write, I'm not sure where we are on the injury front following the Sparta game, but I'm hoping we have much more in the way of availability than in recent weeks. We can build a welcome 4-point gap between the sides with a victory, which will also keep us at the top of the table when league action resumes following the international break. We have the Sparta return leg followed by the trip to the Red Mancs in the FA Cup to come, and the Sparta games affords Jurgen a chance to rest a number of players, particularly the ones that have pulled double duty over the past few weeks. I am expecting maximum motivation, concentration, attitude and application for this one from first minute to last. 3 points please. Get it done!
  2. Work-rate. Incisiveness. Nous. I don't ask for much. This is how it's gonna be. Build from the ground up. Early kick-off after an international break, with one of Professional Game Manchester Officials Limited in charge. We've seen this one many times now. The game is live on Sky as they have first dibs on the fixture, but the kick-off is in TNT Sports' TV slot on police advice. The games at Anfield always kick off later and police advice doesn't come into it. Maybe because all the City fans are stuck in traffic, which is something that only affects them. Early kick-offs are usually not conducive to a good game, and certainly not after the players have been returning from representing their countries in places like South America. And certainly not at the Etihad. Much has been made of a supposed injury crisis at City, with the likes of Ederson and Haaland not being part of their national team squads in the last round of fixtures. Haaland actually did miss this game last year through injury, not that it hampered them as they ran riot in the second half to cruise to a 4-1 win. Players like Rodri, Silva and Foden have become crucial to the way they play, and those 3 never seem to be unavailable. Furthermore, when games against them see us playing a more energetic yet haphazard attacking style and knocking City off their stride, we tend to do well. If we allow them to gain control, and if the refs decide they quite fancy an all-expenses-paid jaunt to the Middle East, we struggle to live with them. It's been like that for us at the Etihad for the most part since Jurgen took charge of us. He got a great win in his early weeks at Liverpool, but it's been one of our least favourite places to visit even when we were the best team in the world. I will not be surprised in the least when I see their bald oddball manager has a full selection available to him either. Forus, no Robbo, Thiago or Baj still, but we should have the likes of Ibou, Joe, Curtis and Grav available again. Hopefully our South American contingent return unscathed. It's all about club football again until the next international break in March, so all the players have no excuse not to have their heads in the game. More so than I usually request, concentration, motivation, attitude and application must be tip top from the word go right to the end. Let's try for the 3 points please and see where the land lies. Get it done!
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